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Runkeeper’s CEO: Fitness Trackers on the “Road to Nowhere”

Runkeeper’s CEO: Fitness Trackers on the “Road to Nowhere”

Jason Jacobs, Runkeeper’s CEO, didn’t predict the death of fitness trackers, but he did bring up some problems that could leave the wearables world short of breath.

Take me, for example. Last year I wanted to experiment with sleep tracking, so I bought a Jawbone 24. After one night, I stopped sleeping with the wristband because I couldn’t get comfortable. Instead of sending it back, I decided to track my steps. For a while it was fun, but the novelty wore off and there was no reason to continue wearing the tracker. I knew how many steps-per-day I averaged. What else was there to gain?

It’s a common story. People purchase a fitness tracker, wear it a few months, then stop.

According to Nielsen, one-third of wearable device owners quite using it after six months. However, from January 2013 to January 2014, the number of smartphone owners who used a fitness function increased 18 percent to 45.8 million consumers.

Unlike fitness band users, where only 28 percent say their device was worth the price, smartphone owners are accessing health apps an average of 16 times per month for close to an hour at a time. (See more from mobihealthnews).

The numbers are clear: your smartphone is the most popular fitness tracker on the planet. No other wearable can claim 45.8 million active users.

I’m not saying wearables are worthless, but the majority add limited lifetime value. Serious runners who don’t carry a smartphone aren’t using a FitBit—they’re wearing a GPS watch that provides average pace. Weight lifters wanting to log workout data don’t need a Jawbone; they want a smartphone app designed for strength training.

Runkeeper is a perfect example of a smartphone app that continues enhancing an athlete’s life. You can design programs that help you meet goals. It tells you if you’ve set a new record. The pacing function lets you know if you’re ahead or behind, a critical piece of information for racing (and training). On top of all that, you can earn rewards and participate in contests and giveaways, all while engaging with friends and fellow runners. I’m yet to see a fitness tracker create that level of community and commitment.

Perhaps Jason Jacobs is right; fitness trackers may be similar to cameras and music players, both of which were gobbled up by smartphones and consolidated into a seamless experience. When thinking about a fitness tracker, I found myself asking, “Why would I add another device? It’s one more thing to keep track of and I have to find it and make sure it’s charged every time I go out.”

Your smartphone is already a habit. It’s part of daily life. It’s the one device you remember to charge (most of the time). Plus, believe it or not, talking is still the number one reason people use their smartphone. We like staying connected in case there’s an emergency, or just to have peace of mind.

It’s worth noting that Runkeeper and Kippo are in the same boat—it’s in our best interest if athletes carry smartphones during a workout. That doesn’t change the data. That doesn’t change the reality of how we’re using technology. That doesn’t change the fact that the majority of wearables end up sitting on a shelf collecting dust.

As the flood of trackers continues filling the fitness arena, I encourage creators to ask, “Are we making a solution, then looking for a problem? Or have we identified a real problem for which we are designing a solution?” And don’t forget the final, most important piece of the puzzle—a question I think Jacobs would agree with—you may design a product that solves a pressing problem, but have you chosen the right medium? Maybe wrist-wear isn’t the answer.


Photo credits: Runkeeper and its blog 

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